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Zombie reactors in Ukraine

While the European Union is trying to help Ukraine's political transition, Europe's financial support is cementing the country's dependence on an outdated and highly unsafe nuclear sector. To avoid further instability and political and environmental risks, European institutions need to offer better oversight and funding for alternative energy sources.

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Quick facts
Ukraine's so-called 'nuclear safety upgrade programme' is necessary to keep Ukraine's ageing nuclear reactors working longer than they were designed to.

Costs: estimated with EUR 1.45 billion
Public financing: EUR 600 million (300m each from Euratom and EBRD), partially disbursed

Bankwatch calls on European institutions to re-direct their funding towards safer and sustainable energy solutions.

Read more in our briefing >> (pdf)

Meet the campaigners

Iryna Holovko, Campaign lead, Ukraine
Dana Marekova, Slovakia
Ana-Maria Seman, Romania
Akos Eger, Hungary


Key points

  • Design lifetime of 12 soviet-era nuclear reactors ends before 2020. Four lifetimes already prolonged, same is planned for the rest. more >>

  • The safety of Ukraine's reactors cannot be guaranteed: vicinity to armed conflict, accidents and safety issues. more >>

  • EUR 600 million from European institutions supports programme crucial for these plans. more >>

  • Government is stifling dissent, breaching international law. Potential implications for Ukraine’s transition and EU relations. more >>

  • Supply and disposal of nuclear fuel mean continued dependence on Russia more >>



Ukraine's nuclear timebomb

Ukraine has 15 soviet-era nuclear reactors built during Soviet times. 12 were designed to be shut down by 2020.

Kyiv is determined to keep all reactors running for at least ten years beyond their expiry date.

The lifetimes of four reactors have already been expanded without completing necessary safety upgrades, without properly assessing all risks and without considering sustainable alternatives.

Timeline of expiry dates of Ukraine's nuclear reactors
Lifetimes and design lifetimes of Ukraine's nuclear reactors. See larger image >>

Read more:
Europe's false solutions for Ukraine's energy woes
Blog post | March 9, 2016


Safety cannot be guaranteed

Europe's biggest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia is located only 250 kilometres from the frontlines of the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

As the chief specialist for nuclear reactors at Zaporizhia confirms, nuclear power plants were not designed for war.

Read more:
Ukraine Nuclear Safety Upgrade Programme: loan conditions not met
Briefing | January 21, 2016

Video snippet: Sergei Shygyn, chief specialist for nuclear reactors at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant


Between 2010 and 2015 alone, three different nuclear units were forced to shut down due to accidents. Severe safety issues were identified in two more units.



Europe's support for Ukraine's nuclear gamble

Rather than helping Ukraine to retire its nuclear fleet and chart a new, sustainable energy course, Europe is helping perpetuate an outdated and dangerous energy source.

Two European public lenders, Euratom and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, approved loans over EUR 300 million each for a so-called 'safety upgrade' project necessary to keep Ukraine's ageing nuclear reactors running.

For comparison, EUR 600 million is nearly a quarter of the total EU support (excluding Euratom) to Ukraine’s energy sector between 2007-2014.

What is worse, Ukraine unilaterally decided to postpone the safety upgrades. While safety is being delayed, the ageing reactors continue their operations.

Read more:
Ukraine snubs safety concerns and European donors, extends lifetime of fourth Soviet-era nuclear reactor
Press release | December 8, 2015


Teaser trailer for "No safe atom". Turn on subtitles in the settings on the bottom right.
Watch the full 11 minute film on YouTube >>



Stifled dissent, no public control

Despite the EU’s financial support, Ukraine’s government gets away with stifling dissent and breaching international law. This could have far reaching implications for Ukraine’s transition and its relations with EU countries and the EU.


The Aarhus Convention and the Espoo Convention stipulate that Ukraine must conduct public consultations with neighbouring countries and transboundary environmental impact assessments.

Ten things the Ukrainian government doesn't want you to know about its nuclear energy plans

Read our multimedia story

Breach of international law

In April 2013, the UN Espoo monitoring body ruled that Ukraine had breached the Espoo Convention when extending the licenses for two units at the Rivne nuclear power plant. The decision was taken without a transboundary environmental impact assessment (EIA) and without informing neighbouring countries about the plans, as Espoo procedures would require.

Read more:
Ukraine's Nukes Are in Breach of UN Convention
Press release | April 22, 2013


The governments of Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary have asked Ukraine for information on its nuclear power plans, requesting Ukraine to initiate public consultations in neighbouring countries. So far, Ukraine denies these requests (see responses to Slovakia and Hungary).

Also the European Commission stated in a letter (pdf) that Ukraine must adhere to the Aarhus and Espoo conventions. So far, however, it has taken no steps to make Ukraine's government comply.

Read more:
Letter to Marco Buti, Director General for Economic and Financial Affairs (pdf)
Policy letter | August 10, 2015


Stifling dissent

In 2015, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear operator Energoatom sued civil society organisation National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU), alleging that NECU had published misleading information about safety standards at unit 2 of the South Ukraine nuclear power plant. Bankwatch's member group NECU was forced to post a retraction on its website.

Despite the case attracting international attention, the Ukrainian government appears keen to block public debate, both at home and abroad.


Dependence on Russia

Ukraine's dependence on Russian gas supplies is often used to defend the support for nuclear energy. But all of Ukraine's nuclear reactors use Russian technology and are almost entirely dependent on nuclear fuel from Russia.

Spent fuel is sent back to Russia, providing ample opportunity for Russia to put pressure on Ukraine, which has so far made no investments in infrastructure for the long-term, safe isolation of spent fuel and radioactive waste.



Latest developments


Bankwatch in the media | April 25, 2016

It’s the result of war, politics and economics.

Three decades after the world’s worst nuclear accident, the home of the shuttered Chernobyl power plant remains more reliant than ever on nuclear power.

When a botched test in the early hours of April 26, 1986, blew apart the reactor’s core and spewed huge amounts of radiation into the atmosphere, nuclear power accounted for about a quarter of the energy mix of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Today, nuclear power produces more than half of Ukraine’s energy — the result of war, politics and economics.

Bankwatch in the media | April 25, 2016


Bankwatch in the media | April 22, 2016

Zaporizhia is one of Ukraine’s four active nuclear plants. It has six reactors, each with the capacity to produce 1000 MW, and was built at the same time as Chernobyl, with Soviet-era reactors.

Oleh Dudar, head of operations, joined the plant in 1986 – the year of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Bankwatch in the media | April 18, 2016

As the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster approaches, Noel Wauchope outlines just a few compelling reasons why the Coalition Government's uranium deal with Ukraine may have further disastrous consequences.

WHAT AMAZINGLY insensitive timing. As the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe approaches, Australia makes a deal (at the Nuclear Security Summit) to sell uranium to Ukraine.

This is such a bad idea for so many reasons — it's hard to know which to pick first!

Economics: simply because uranium exporting is not really economically worthwhile.

Bankwatch in the media | April 12, 2016

Thirty years after the world's most catastrophic nuclear accident, the abandoned Ukrainian town of Pripyat, home to the infamous Chernobyl nuclear reactor number four, has been transformed.

From the ashes of the site has emerged a $US200 per person "extreme tourism" theme park.

Each week more than 1,000 tourists are taken through security and radiation checkpoints, before being allowed to walk through the abandoned buildings, including the swimming pool complex, kindergarten and police station.


Bankwatch Mail | May 10, 2013

In a landmark ruling laid out in a March 25 letter to the Ukrainian Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Implementation Commission of the United Nations Espoo Convention has deemed that Ukraine’s plans to expand the lifetime of its old nuclear reactors is in breach of the convention – the same convention that Ukraine ratified in 1999. Ukrainian campaigners believe that this should lead the EBRD to halt the disbursement of a EUR 300 million ‘nuclear safety’ loan agreed with Ukraine’s state nuclear operator just days prior to the issuing of the Espoo verdict.

Advocacy letter | April 22, 2013

The Implementation Committee under the Espoo Convention concluded in March 2013 that the extension of the life-times of two nuclear reactor units at the Rivne NPP are a case of non-compliance with Ukraine's international obligations. The two units are part of a, EBRD financed project and got their life-time extensions in 2010 without preparing an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and with no information provided to potentially affected neighbouring states.

Bankwatch Mail | March 7, 2013

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is expected to take a decision this month on whether or not to provide a EUR 300 million loan for a nuclear power plant Safety Upgrade Programme (SUP) in Ukraine. Bankwatch and other environment groups are questioning the logic of the proposed SUP as it will result in some of Ukraine’s old nuclear units continuing to operate for another 20 years.

Advocacy letter | December 18, 2012

The letter from Greenpeace to the EBRD explains in more detail why Greenpeace has joined Bankwatch's opposition to the Ukraine nuclear power plant safety upgrade project and has staged a protest action in Kiev in December 2012. Both Greenpeace and Bankwatch fear that some of the crucial arguments are not taken into account by the EBRD staff and Board so far.

Briefing | November 14, 2012

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and Euroatom plan to support the nuclear power plant safety upgrade project in Ukraine. The EU presents the project as a timely initiative to improve nuclear safety in the region. A closer inspection however shows that it in fact can increase nuclear risks, in that the project includes a significant number of measures necessary to extend the lifetime of the reactors.